Worcestershire Season Preview

Worcestershire Season Preview

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Picture © Luke Adams

Their ‘yo-yoing’ between the First and Second Division will irk many Worcestershire members, but a promotion push this season will be more or less expected at New Road.

A third-placed finish in 2016 was no disaster by any means but this looked rather charitably on their efforts across the season, skewed by wins in their final two games against an experimental Sussex side and a demoralised Derbyshire.

Another defeat in the knockout stages of a white ball competition was a bitter one to swallow for the Pears, even more so as they were thumped down at Taunton.

This summer, it falls to new captain Joe Leach to orchestrate an upturn in fortunes in Elgar country.

The revolving door of overseas players last summer didn’t help, so the signing of John Hastings- second top ODI wicket-taker in the world last year- to play in all formats looks to be one of the canniest acquisitions made by any county.

Brett D’Oliveira, who started last year terrifically with the bat but tailed off, will open alongside Daryl Mitchell who was unceremoniously deposed from the captaincy just days after the season’s end.

It’s a sign of the ambition of Tom Fell that, less than a year after recovering from cancer, he is talking about a determination to convert fifties into hundreds.

There are question marks over the middle order. Ross Whiteley failed to build on a breakthrough season in 2015 in red-ball cricket, while Tom Kohler-Cadmore is another looking to advance his standing in the longer form following shoulder surgery.

In Ben Cox they have one of the best out and out glovemen in the land, who is keen for a lift up to number six after two fruitful summers with the bat.

The struggles of Charlie Morris, whose technique was broken down and put back together again last summer, have been well-documented and he now needs to get back to bowling spell upon spell for the county.

Ins: None
Outs: Chris Russell (released)

Key Player: Joe Clarke

Needless to say that any promotion ambitions the Pears harbour will require another stellar season from Clarke if they are to persist.
He was masterful last season, scoring nearly 300 runs more than any other team-mate and racking up six hundreds. Clarke is run-greedy, the best compliment going.

The 20 year-old had a mixed winter away with England Lions though. He struggled with the conditions in Sri Lanka that resulted in a string of low scores. Challenges clearly remain with parts of his game.

Clarke came back strongly to end the winter well, hitting 89 in the Champion County game and reaching fifty in the first North-South tie. Worcestershire will need him to hit this kind of form early on.
Player to Watch: Josh Tongue

It will be intriguing to see whether this is the year that 19 year-old Tongue gets opportunities at first-team level.

The England Under-19 international made an immediate impression in a university match this time last year and was named in the county’s squad for their four-day game at Northampton.

Bowling coach Matt Mason, revered by the Pears support, has called the young bowler a ‘diamond’ with good reason.

He underwent lumbar spine surgery in September so ought to be handled with care, but you will hear much more of Tongue in the months and years to come.

Overseas Signings

John Hastings will play for Worcestershire in all three forms of the game while Mitchell Santner takes their second overseas spot for the duration of the T20 Blast.

Steve Rhodes has spoken of the ‘unfinished business’ that they have with Santner, 24, who broke his finger in just his second game for the county last season.

He is a good lower middle-order bat and will offer spin bowling expertise in Twenty20 to complement the skills of D’Oliveira and George Rhodes.

Hastings will provide a young squad with experience and wisdom in the dressing-room and that’s just off the field.

He is a belligerent batsman and a big-hearted bowler that will be sure to help them in their bid to take 20 wickets more often this summer.

How they’ll fare

Director of Cricket Rhodes has said that promotion in the Championship and reaching the quarter-finals in limited-overs competitions is ‘achievable’ for Worcestershire.

This would need Leach to work out his captaincy style with unerring ease, rarely the case for someone learning on the role. He will need to feel able to tap into the experience of Mitchell and Hastings.

For one, Leach is one of the county’s outstanding players and must avoid the tendency to underbowl himself that befalls many bowling captains.

The Pears have a good blend of talent and if they can introduce some of their promising youngsters, this could be an exciting season in the Malvern Hills.

Odds

Specsavers County Championship: 8/1
RLODC: 20/1
T20: 28/1

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